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How Does Anxiety Impact Learning?

How does anxiety impact learning? Understanding how anxiety affects learning requires that you know your body state that favors learning. It is, therefore, necessary to go through how you receive learning.

Learning is a process of continuous change and the acquisition of knowledge and skills by instruction or study. These changes can be adjustments, adaptations, or improvements in attitudes, behaviors, temperaments, values, and preferences.

Learning comes in two ways; emotional and intellectual, and can be a process of trial and error. This means that you are likely to repeat actions that have previously solved problems either by chance or consistency as learning.

Components of the learning process include; Motivation, active listening skills, positivity, illustrations, and inspiration from teachers, study groups, friends, and family effects that improve learning.

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Reinforcement in learning refers to encouraging certain behaviors while discouraging others to improve learning. Rewards that are gained through experiences with the environment reinforce behaviors.


Transference involves remembering, understanding, and applying. It is the ability to use information, implement it, and applying the knowledge.

Learning varies for every individual, with differences in learning styles. There are four major categories of learners:

  • Self-directed learner – The learner plans, conducts and assesses learning themselves.
  • Goal-oriented learner – This type of learner gains knowledge and skills with clear, concise goals and achievements to attain in mind.
  • Activity-oriented learner – Learns effectively through training methods associated with activities.
  • Learning-oriented learner – Have the self-determination to learn things that directly affect their lives.

How Does Anxiety Impact Learning?

Anxiety is a natural human reaction, necessary for adapting to situations in flight or fight mode. Although anxiety may restrict learning, we require it for every learning process and can affect the ability to receive, process, and retrieve information when needed.

There are two types of anxiety associated with learning, namely survival anxiety and learning anxiety. Learning anxiety involves the fear of trying something new or holding on to mindsets that inhibit learning. Survival anxiety is effective for learning by realising that causing a change requires your active involvement in putting the effort.

The basic principle, according to world-renowned psychologist Edgar H. Schein, is that learning only happens when the survival anxiety level is higher than learning anxiety. Anxiety can have a positive and negative impact on learning, depending on individual and anxiety levels. It affects the learning process, working memory, and emotional intelligence.

Anxiety and the learning process

Learning is a process that depends on your encoding, adaptation, and application of information through various activities. Anxiety can lead to nervousness and worry, which causes a lack of confidence and reduced effort in learning. When anxiety affects the attention necessary for learning, it results in underachievement and low performance.

Anxiety and working memory

Human memory is important for learning, reasoning, reading, and problem-solving skills. The memory flourishes in concentration and repetition of the learning process. However, when you have anxiety, it focuses the memory on the negative thoughts or threats, making it difficult to get the best out of learning.

Anxiety and emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a factor essential for the improvement in attitudes and behaviors. It is your ability to assess certain trends and behaviors in various ways and making appropriate. Emotions have both positive and negative factors, such as anxiety. Depending on your personality, your emotions can influence your anxiety level.

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Positive Impact Of Anxiety On Learning

We hear a lot about anxiety and its effects, mostly more negative effects than positives. Anxiety has its positive in making you take inevitable actions. For example, anxiety over a forthcoming exam should make you prepare ahead of time if the exams are important to you.

Anxiety as an achievement motivation

If you are someone who doesn’t enjoy negative feedbacks, anxiety can be a motivation to do more and exceed all expectations. If you worry about people’s perception of you, it could push you to always be at your best. A typical example of using anxiety as an achievement motivation is when you’re faced to make a presentation before a large crowd, the anxiety of standing before a crowd can be a motivation for preparing well for the presentation.

Anxiety as a warning sign

The purpose of anxiety is to create awareness and alert threats. However, it can become excessive, leading to chronic anxiety. Anxiety may be a sign that you need to take certain actions or make adjustments in some areas of your life.

Positive traits in situational anxiety

Learning from previous experiences may help you have a better understanding of specific actions and their consequences, making you more cautious so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

Negative Impact Of Anxiety On Learning

Learning difficulty

Intrusive thoughts and ideas can become distracting, make you lose concentration, and have difficulty understanding and processing information. It is futile to continue learning when such emotions linger.

Underachievement and performance level

Getting your best from learning requires an environment that encourages it. Sometimes when you overthink, receive criticism or negative feedback, it affects your performance, self-esteem, and productivity. Similarly, people who have social anxiety have a tough time learning in social environments.

How does anxiety impact learning

Inhabit capability to act well

Self-doubt and low self-esteem can affect your capabilities. These can make you believe you are not good enough. Fear derived from both feelings can make you always question your abilities and constantly hinder the quality of work.

Anxiety affects working memory and limits thought processing efficiency

When your thoughts become obtrusive and obsessive, you worry and exaggerate on issues that are unlikely to happen. Overthinking, which makes simple things complicated and straightforward decisions complex, can paralyze you and temporarily shut down your working memory.

How To Reduce The Negative Effect Of Anxiety On Learning

Identify the source of anxiety

Identifying the underlying cause of anxiety will help in dealing with it when next it arises. A good way to identify the source is to always keep a journal of events that lead to your anxiety.

Discover your learning style

Find the learning method that works best for you and adapt to it. While some people learn best by reading, others do best by watching videos or listening to audio. Adapting the right learning style will improve your confidence and performance.

Practice positivity

Imbibe more positive habits than negatives. Focus on self-talk relating to your strengths and priorities. Even when it seems difficult, try to see the good in every scenario, discard negative thoughts and avoid people who always bring you down or make you feel less accepted.

Take Breaks

While working, you may feel stuck and insecure. Take time out, relax, let your mind and body be at ease before going back to supposed work or learning. Doing too much at once without breaks can cause burnouts and eventually lead to reduced efficiency.

Focus on what interests you

Many people do not really know what they really want, sometimes they enrol in a course or pick up a skill because it is trending and not because it is what they like. Concentrate on what sparks your interest. This will narrow down your thoughts on difficulties you might have to face.

Plan and organize

Set personal goals and deadlines, break down the bulky learning process into smaller ones to reduce workload and fear of unexpected changes.

Seek support

If you are having difficulties concentrating or understanding your learning process, speak to professionals in the same field or people who have a better comprehension of it. Create study groups, ask questions, research more on confusing areas.

Get enough sleep

Not getting enough rest can restrict working memory, cloud the mind and create difficulties in effective learning. Stick to a regular sleep pattern, eat healthily and, at the right time, practice a positive lifestyle and mindfulness.

Ask for constructive criticism

Unfortunately, constructive criticism does not come naturally to many people. When the situation calls for it, ask for constructive criticism on any project or assignment you’re working on. Constructive criticism received over time can help in boosting your confidence and increase your self-worth, especially for those who suffer from social anxiety.


Anxiety is essential for effective learning, although it’s difficult to detect and is likely to have detrimental effects when in excess. Improving your quality of life in the areas of knowledge, skills requires self-awareness that there are certain aspects of your life that need adjustments or change.

This will not happen by itself unless you are self-aware to take the right actions. Practising learning methods that align with your values can be a great way to use anxiety to your advantage.

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